Held all day at Ala Moana Beach, the event attracts an estimated 50,000 people in attendance at various times during the day. At the setting of the sun (approximately 7:00 pm), the ceremony climaxes with the release of thousands of lanterns. Although they look alike in the photos, each lantern holds a special meaning...honoring and remembering a specific person that died while in service. The "skin" or paper covering of the lanterns are individually personalized and decorated by the sender. At the end of the night, the lanterns are gathered up to be reused for next year.
The differences in race, age, and gender melt into oblivion as an unmistakable feel of unity and compassion encompass all those participating in this memorial service. While there are warm smiles, genuine laughter and camaraderie, there is also the sad look of loss and pain on the faces of those launching these lights of remembrance.
The weather had been iffy throughout the day, but at launch time, God provided the gathering with beautiful weather and just about the calmest waters one could hope for. To get a good shooting vantage, I waded into the water waist deep, camera held carefully above my neck, conscious of my footing so as not to slip and fall. Splashing water, especially salt water, is always a major concern for photographers, but the water was so glass smooth that not one drop of moisture touched my equipment.
As the sun began to set and the lanterns slowly drift to the horizon, the feeling in the air was one of reflection, grief, and love. As a christian, I know the death of a loved one is but temporary and that I'll be one day reunited with my family and friends. But while still on earth, a ceremony like this is very cathartic and healing, helping each person to realize they are not alone. While God is watching over us from above, a hug or handshake from a stranger or friend at reminds us that others are watching over us down here too.